EASTPORT, Maine — It may be 1,300 miles from Maine to Chicago’s iconic Greektown and just short of 5,000 miles to Athens, Greece, but fans of authentic Greek cuisine need not travel any farther than the Washington County community of Eastport.
Tyra Mihalis Baker is a sixth-generation Greek restaurateur who, with the help of her three children, serves up an array of traditional Greek dishes at The Liberty Cafe at 64 Water St., using recipes she learned as a child from her grandmother at the family-owned Liberty Cafe in Logansport, Ind. Her family has operated restaurants and bakeries in both Greece and the United States for more than 100 years, a tradition that her grandfather Menos Zoubul brought to the Midwest after serving as a cook in France during World War I.
“He came to the U.S. after the war, and, like a lot of Greeks, opened up a restaurant, The Liberty Cafe,” Baker says. “In 1923 or ’24 he sent for my grandmother and his grandmother, and the dishes we now serve here in Eastport are based on their recipes. I was in that restaurant since I was child, busing tables and helping out.”
Divorce brought Baker and her children to Maine in 1997, where she worked a variety of jobs before opening her own Greek restaurant in June. “Having my own restaurant has always been a dream of mine,” she said. “The reason I wound up in Eastport is that I ran out of road while looking for a place to settle. I almost settled in Virginia, but then found this place on the sea, which is just so beautiful. Having a traditional Greek restaurant is something different for a community like ours.”
The Liberty Cafe logo that adorns the restaurant’s front entrance replicates the signage used by Baker’s grandfather at his restaurant in Indiana. A cast-iron replica of the Statue of Liberty is displayed alongside the pastry case that she keeps stocked with baklava, the iconic Greek dessert of butter-brushed phyllo stuffed with chopped walnuts and dripping with a honey-based syrup.
“The name Liberty Cafe comes from the Greeks being liberated during the war and coming to America,” she said. “It seemed that all the Greeks who opened cafes in America named them ‘Liberty Cafe.’”
One of the eatery’s biggest fans is John Miller, a member of the Eastport City Council. “The service is stellar,” he said, “and the waiters explain unfamiliar items in making heartfelt recommendations. On a recent visit I tucked into the pastitsio, which is a Greek lasagna seasoned with ground beef and bechamel sauce and a small Greek salad of fresh greens of baby spinach, tomatoes, cucumber, feta cheese and tzatziki sauce. Incredible!”
The Liberty Cafe is small, with only five tables. It is decorated with old family photographs, including photos of some of the restaurants and bakeries that have been the Mihalis family’s legacy. Business has been brisk since Baker opened the doors last summer. In fact, some patrons celebrated opening day by having lunch and then returning a few hours later for dinner. The Liberty Cafe does as much carry-out business as in-house dining and also does catering.
Baker takes pride in using locally sourced and seasonally fresh ingredients whenever possible. “Our lamb we use in making souvlaki pitas and salads, and many of our foodstuffs are sourced from local farms such as Tide Mill Farms in Edmunds and North Star Farms in Windham,” Baker said.
The menu includes 10 vegetarian items, including spanakopita, which combines layers of baked phyllo dough stuffed with spinach and feta cheese. American fare includes a grilled cheese sandwich, macaroni and cheese, and the Liberty Burger, which can be dressed with tzatziki, a sauce that is a blend of Greek yogurt, cucumber and dill.
Miller and other fans of Liberty Cafe are amazed by its affordable prices. “The prices are very reasonable,” Miller said. “Every item but one on the menu is less than $8.95. The exception is their mouthwatering lamb, which is $15.95. Their food is healthy, tasty and a great value.”
The restaurant is staffed by Baker’s three children, son Tom, 17, and daughters Anna, 18, and Laura, 25. Collectively, they represent the seventh generation of bakers and chefs to carry on the Mihalis family tradition of serving up traditional Greek favorites using techniques perfected over more than 100 years.
“I guess you could say that we’ve brought the Greek islands to Moose Island here in Eastport,” Baker said.
For more information, call 207-853-2080.
Correction: An early version of this story contained an inaccurate reference to owner Tyra Mihalis Baker’s grandfather. His name was Menos Zoubul, not Mihalis.